There has been a lot of talk about the Washington Capitals’ window to win another Stanley Cup recently, but new coach Peter Laviolette doesn’t think in those terms. He sees a franchise with a great track record in recent years and from his introductory press conference, it was clear the veteran bench boss is happy to land in D.C. to coach the likes of Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and T.J. Oshie, among many others.
“When you take over a team, you come in with an open mind and a blank slate on the players and personnel,” Laviolette said. “From there it’s about setting a standard. I look at it as a great opportunity. Here you have a terrific cast that is big, strong and can play aggressive.”
The fit seems to be a very good one here. Laviolette has a championship pedigree, having led Carolina to a title in 2006 and counting appearances in the final with Philadelphia (2010) and Nashville (2017) more recently. He also brings a reputation as a culture-builder who can hold players accountable. For a Caps team that seemed to lose its edge a bit under former coach Todd Reirden, that’s a big gain for the organization.
“It’s a good fit for both,” said GM Brian MacLellan. “We have an experienced group and we need an experienced coach with the skills Peter brings. Motivating is one of his strengths; he holds players accountable and he does it in a good way. He’s honest. Peter has a track record of establishing a culture. Part of that culture is getting guys to play the right way and make that a priority.”
Reirden, whose first head coaching job in the NHL came when Washington hired him in 2018 to replace Barry Trotz, also came from a defensive background, whereas Laviolette has made his bones by upping the offense on teams he helms. Which is not to say he slacks on ‘D,’ but he will play to Washington’s strengths up front.
Leading the pack will be captain Alex Ovechkin, one of the greatest goal-scorers in the history of the NHL and the owner of now nine Art Ross trophies – tying David Pastrnak for the goal crown this season. As an outsider, Laviolette saw some other qualities in Ovechkin that impressed him too; namely the Russian sniper’s leadership and willingness to do things like block shots in order to help his team compete.
While Laviolette is known as a coach who can bring accountability to a team, he actually hopes that it doesn’t have to come to that: if players are motivated already, then accountability isn’t needed. To that end, he wants players to enjoy coming to the rink. What he wants to see in a squad’s identity is how hard they care about each other and how hard they fight for each other. Given how the Caps acted when they won the Cup two years ago, they clearly have strong bonds within their group. And if they do need a refresher on culture, their new bench boss is happy to bring it.
“I do believe in honesty and directness,” Laviolette said. “I can be firm and I can be passionate – you have to be in today’s game.”
MacLellan and the Capitals still have some big decisions to make in the off-season, chiefly what to do in net. Veteran Braden Holtby is an unrestricted free agent and MacLellan said he expects the Cup winner to test those waters. The Capitals already have a new starter in sensational youngster Ilya Samsonov, though MacLellan did leave the door open for a Holtby return under the right circumstances.
Both Laviolette and the Capitals have a championship to their resume, but now there’s an opportunity to win one together. The new coach still remembers what it felt like when his Hurricanes beat Edmonton and the feeling sounds pretty intoxicating.
“To go out on the ice and think you truly can’t be beat – that’s awesome,” he said. “Coming to Washington, my priority is to build something like that again.”